Sahara Forest Project

Multidisciplinary Cornell research teams have greatly increased the commercial attractiveness of algal biofuel, overcoming significant hurdles that have delayed private-sector uptake of this promising green fuel 

Algae Promise Greener Energy

February 11, 2014

Sahara Forest Project

Multidisciplinary Cornell research teams have greatly increased the commercial attractiveness of algal biofuel, overcoming significant hurdles that have delayed private-sector uptake of this promising green fuel.

Charles Greene (EAS) and his research team parlayed a 2011 Rapid Response Fund award into an international algal biofuel partnership, now funded by a $9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Working with industrial partner Cellana, the consortium has grown algae at the highest productivity values demonstrated at pilot scale in the world. Algae can produce far more biomass and oil per acre annually than even the most productive terrestrial energy crops.

Working with the Sahara Forest Project (SFP, pictured above) in Qatar, Cornell researchers helped build a facility highlighting new energy and food technologies that attracted international attention at the December 2012 COP18 UN Climate Change Conference in Doha. The demonstration facility was visited by several heads of state.

Back in Ithaca, Ruth Richardson (CEE), Beth Ahner (BEE), Lars Angenent (BEE), David Erickson (MAE), Jeff Tester (CHEME), Roseanna Zia (CBE), and other scientists work on strategies to improve different steps in the extraction process—as well as totally reenvisioning reactor systems. Current methods require too much energy, preventing algal biofuels from achieving their full commercial or environmental potential.

Another promising path is to develop high-value coproducts at the same time as fuel. Animal scientist Xingen Lei (ANSCI) is doing just that. With a new $5.5 million USDA grant to further research launched by ACSF seed funding, he is producing a nutritious animal feed for broiler chickens, laying hens, and weanling pigs from algae.